Ah, the wanderlust bug. It has taken hold of us at Backpackers.com, whether it’s hiking into the wilderness or jumping on the nearest plane or metro to some foreign place. We know it has bitten you a few times, too. Whether you’re getting out of dodge to shake off an old chapter or gain new perspective, traveling in any form can be rewarding.
Yet there’s a particular kind of travel that few embark on: solo backpacking, hiking, and general travel. Specifically, solo travel for women. We interviewed many lovely, well-traveled women in the community to get the low-down on how to embark on solo backpacking, hiking, and traveling (however you want to get out there). Below are the tips, tricks, and general mindset to make getting out of your comfort zone a rewarding experience.
As a solo female traveler myself, I’ll share a few personal tips, too!
Planning and Information
Like any successful project or event, a successful trip should have a backbone and a foundation, which in turn build opportunities for spontaneity. We suggest planning any trip by starting a list of the things you want to see, foods you want to eat, mountains you want to hike — you know, the reasons you’re going there in the first place.
Part of that planning means gathering of information. And, hyper-planned or not, any solo traveler (heck, anyone that is far from home!) should carry some important documents, just in case of an emergency or questionable situations. We like wrist ID badges because you can list emergency contacts, allergies, health conditions, and your name all in one convenient place.
Here’s a list of essential planning documents:
- A small, portable paper map
- Copies of your passport (to be kept in your day pack)
- Emergency contact information
- Visas (dependent on destination)
- Passport (to be left in a secure place if possible)
Note that the above list isn’t extensive, and doesn’t require you to be on the grid. When we say essentials, we mean them!
Christy Liao: “Three missed flights within a span of 48 hours! I couldn’t believe my luck, as this had never happened before. But I stayed collected…In retrospect, this series of missed flights helped set the spontaneity tone and happy-go-lucky adventures, as I later picked which city/country to visit primarily based on whatever cheap flight was available, and an even more win-win situation if it included a long layover somewhere new.”
Melanie MacDowell: “Planning is good, but so is not planning. It’s a balance and an art form worth taking seriously. Sometimes plans get in the way of unexpected opportunities, but know if you should bring your rain jacket.”
Mei Mei Chu: “Research the culture and any ‘nuisances’ to note before you go. The biggest issue is that people disrespect the local culture when they go to a place that’s foreign to them. Lots of people walk around like they’re in their own world. Tiny t-shirts, midriff exposed, no bra, in a conservative country…This may be acceptable in their own country, but you are there to learn about a different country.”
Build an arsenal of self-care
While traveling it is easy to fall victim to the “I am on vacay” mentality, and lose sight of critical self-care, often forgetting our bodies are sensitive to the new elements and circumstances. While we won’t tell you to not eat those extra treats, we do want to make sure you are prepped with preventative measures for health and wellness.
Go simple, focus on practicality, and streamline your morning routine. If backpacking in the wilderness, opt for eco-friendly products that won’t harm the plants or animals.
Here is a list of a few essential items for living out of a backpack or suitcase:
- Compact hair brush (dependent on your style)
- Dry shampoo (baking soda is a natural alternative)
- Nail file
- First Aid Kit (include medicines for tummy aches and headaches!)
- Clips (to hang laundry to dry)
- Storage solutions (like these organizing tubs!)
The Trvl Nomad: “I do not travel anywhere without a stash of Emergen-C. It’s packed with so many vitamins to boost your immune system and help prevent you from coming down sick.”
Christy Liao: My Nalgene water bottle (attached with a carabiner), has definitely helped save on purchasing bottled water when able, especially in Scandinavian countries like Norway and Iceland, where the tap water was pure and had the cleanest taste straight from source. Absolutely do not drink tap water from Morocco.
Merel: Dry shampoo, day cream, eyebrow gel, razor and toothbrush.
Oh yeah, definitely a toothbrush. And be prepared for your moon cycle.
Let’s be real: There is a huge stigma surrounding solo female travel. We know there are potential dangers — most of which have come about due to patriarchal society (here’s looking at you random dudes chatting up obviously solo women on little traveled trails). We also know that women should feel (and can feel) safe and empowered no matter where they rest their heads at night.
We also believe that the world is too interesting to scare anyone from going and experiencing it for themselves.
So, let’s talk about safety and self-defense. In general, you want to be aware, try to get an understanding of your surroundings and pack smartly. (A lot of this goes back to that planning step). Make sure someone knows your whereabouts (even if it’s a general location), have a method of reaching someone and consider practicing self-defense — in the form of classes, general physical fitness, or concealed weapons like a knife or mace — prior to departure. One small perk to a modern world is the free Wi-Fi, often found in coffee shops, which allows you to access the world of information (and safety) more quickly. But we do not suggest Wi-Fi as “Plan A”.
Here’s a list of core safety items, which we highly recommend:
- An international data plan for your phone
- Packing a multi-use tool that can double as a self-defense tool. This works if you are checking a bag, otherwise they won’t let you go on the plane with those bad boys, so pick up a cheap disposable tool when you land.
- A headlamp and/or flashlight, specifically one that fits in your pocket
- Flares, if you are in the backcountry
- Whistle, for both urban travel and wilderness hiking
- Pepper spray, an oldie but as a goodie, as they say (another check-on only item for air travel)
Merel: “Know where you’re going, know the culture, know what’s ok for women and what is not, adapt to the local rules. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. I sometimes had bad feelings about certain taxi drivers in Ecuador. I would not get in!”
The Trvl Nomad: “I wear a small crossbody clutch purse or a waterproof cell phone bag under my shirt or dress with my passport, ID, cash, credit cards and cell phone inside and out of plain sight. If you have an extra old cell phone, you can always use that as a dummy phone to help fool the muggers.”
Christy Liao: “When I was out wandering around the city for the day, I would have my backpack securely locked at the hostel, and carried only my phone and ID-card style wallet with credit cards and minimal cash; and these were either tucked in the front pockets of my denim shorts, or occasionally tucked inside my bra when I was wearing a dress.”
Mei Mei Chu: “Travel is a lot about budgeting, so as a traveler you’ll venture to places you can go on the cheap. But as a solo female traveler, you need to pay extra attention to safety warnings and where you stay. You don’t want to stay somewhere cheap but unsafe.”
Love, lust, and friendship
The beauty of independent traveling is being naturally open to meeting new people that cross your path. Sometimes these people can make huge impacts on your life, sometimes they become your “five-minute friend”. Either way, we say take advantage of the moment. Part of traveling solo is meeting people — at least, if you want it to be — and chances of finding someone who shares your worldview is higher when on the road.
Also, make sure to use the tech that keeps us connected — get their info! You never know when that random contact will help you out, whether it’s to find the best local restaurant or get you out of a sticky situation.
As a solo female traveler there is a cliché that you will be whisked away by a handsome, rugged local or worldly millionaire (with a private jet preferably). We wouldn’t try to guarantee or avoid any possible flings, but we are all red blooded mammals with primal instincts and the intrinsic desire to be loved. Whatever decisions you make about love, lust, and friendship while solo, take extra precaution to respect your mind and body, because at the end that is what you will take home.
Love, lust, and friendship advice
Mariellen Ward: “You cannot copy anyone else if you want a personally or spiritually transformative experience. Only Liz Gilbert is going to have the experience she described in Eat, Pray, Love, and there’s no point in copying her. You have to listen to your own inner voice. That’s the whole point of this type of journey, to get to know YOURSELF – not someone else. You have to walk your own path.”
Christy Liao: “An exchanged smile goes a long way.”
Merel: “I chose Bali to find and lose myself, to get to know myself better, to do a mindfulness course and learn to surf. During this period I ended a long term relationship, fell in love again, broke up again and never felt so unhappy in my life, but I came out so much stronger and happier. I found myself again.”
If the idea of solo backpacking, hiking, or traveling sounds hauntingly lonely, yet some part of you craves it, know that you you are not alone. We also believe that loneliness is only a matter of perception. Women across the globe are setting out on solo travel and learning to enjoy the beauty of being alone. Adventure comes in all shapes and sizes, it is about time to find an adventure for YOU.
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This article is sponsored in part by Gearhungry.